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June 16, 2011

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Toasting a little bit of Paris right here

CRISP Champagne, colorful cocktails and a dry view of the Bund, while the skies dumped rain on Shanghai last Friday night, more than 700 people stayed comfortable at the Pudong Shangri-La during the French Chamber of Commerce and Industry's (CCIFC) Gala.

While it takes place every year, this year's was particularly special. In keeping with the theme of "Champs-Elysées, Future Dream of Technology," the CCIFC brought a bit of Paris to Shanghai by welcoming Alain Chamfort, one of France's most famous musical artists, to China on his first visit. Chamfort's name might not ring a bell with today's 20-somethings but the singer and composer, who was particularly well known in the 1970s and 80s, was welcomed enthusiastically.

In addition to Chamfort's performance, an exotic and innovative dance was also presented. "I love Alain Chamfort because for me (the songs) are nice memories," said Cédric Roussel. "It was a big pleasure to hear all the songs of my youth again."

The 39-year-old independent financial adviser spoke for almost all the French guests, who clapped and cheered during Chamfort's songs. "It was a very contagious excitement," CCIFC President Annick de Kermadec-Bentzmann said. "Alain is a wonderful singer and a very charming person … and we wanted to have a singer who would remind us of the Champs-Elysées."

The big finale of Chamfort's set was the performance of his song "Lili Shanghai" with the famous dancer Jin Xing. It was the first time the song had been performed in the city.

"It's strange," Chamfort said of performing the song in its namesake city. "I didn't think I ever would (perform it in Shanghai) but I had always hoped to."

Chamfort and Jin met when they were working with the same agent in France, and they last performed the song together seven years ago. This was the first time Chamfort and Jin had seen each other since then and the perfect place for them to cross paths again; the pair represents much of what the CCIFC strives for.

"(We are) working on mixing the French and Chinese more, no isolation," Mrs de Kermadec-Bentzmann said. "One of our missions is to help French companies have closer contact with the Chinese. After all, that's the reason we're here."

And Jin says that's something she's noticed the CCIFC is very good at. Roughly half of the gala's guests were Chinese.

"They have done a really good job of reaching out to both sides and working with the Chinese," she said.

Shanghai has taken over as home for the biggest French expatriate community in Asia, with roughly 15,000 people. The CCIFC has 1,300 members China-wide, about half of whom live in Shanghai.

"It's very impressive. It shows that this place is really attracting a lot of our French compatriots," said Mrs de Kermadec-Bentzmann. She has been living in China for almost 30 years, and added that one of the most amazing things about being here is seeing how much can change in just a short time.

According to de Kermadec-Bentzmann, the average age of the community is a fairly young 29 years old, which means the CCIFC has seen a big shift in the types of businesses they're focusing on. The organization's efforts are moving from centering on big corporations to helping smaller, entrepreneurial companies.

"I'm always quite amazed to see things going at such a fast pace and I think the young French people who come here are also quite taken with what is going on," she said. "It's a vibrant city, it's a dynamic city."

Which is the same impression Chamfort had after his four-day stay. "What I will keep in mind … is the huge view (of the Bund). It's unbelievable," he said.

It's a view that, by the end of the night, even the guests were able to take in from the outdoor terrace. After a three-course meal, plenty of wine and the lucky draw, the rain had finally stopped.

"Maybe I'm wrong," Chamfort said, "but I think it's the only city in the world that has a view like that."


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